Several technologies are common. Tattoos can be applied with a small hand-held electric machine that moves a small bundle of needles to puncture the skin, or by hand manipulation of needles to make multiple punctures in the skin.
If the tattooist reuses needles or inkpots from an HIV-positive client with no effort to clean, or uses ink left-over after tattooing an HIV-positive client, your risk to get HIV from tattooing may be estimated at greater than 10% (see Blood-borne Risks section). If the tattooist is careful with needles, handpieces, and inkpots, but saves and uses left-over ink, your risk may still exceed 10%: HIV can go from an HIV-infected client to needles, from needles to ink, and then, if the tattooist does not throw away excess ink and contaminated ink, HIV can go to the next client.
There is a lot of evidence tattooing transmits HIV. For example, a study in India that followed and tested adults every 3 months asked about tattoos along with other risks. Those who received a tattoo between visits were 2.4 times more likely to show up with a new HIV infection at their next visit compared to those without new tattoos. A study in the US found that men who became HIV-positive in prison were 4 times more likely than other men to have received a tattoo in prison.[2,3] In a study of men with new HIV infections in prison, many men reported tattooing as their only risk (see also Devon Brewer’s discussion of this paper).
During 1995, as part of research on HIV risks in India, I met with a group of prostitutes’ representatives. They reported standing in line for tattoos during festivals for the goddess Yellamma. Same inkpot, same needles. They thought it was safe because they wrongly believed HIV dies in seconds outside the body.
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